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Official Review by Josh Verlin, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Lakewood BlueClaws were founded in 1987 as the Fayetteville Generals, the Class-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. After several moves, the team has found a home in the South Atlantic League at FirstEnergy Park.
The ballpark opened in 2001 when the team moved to New Jersey and became the BlueClaws. They are currently the Class-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. You may not know who the future Phillies may be on this squad, but you are likely to see MLB talent and at a beautiful venue for minor league baseball.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
I sampled the fare of SurfTaco, a local California-style taco chain, and for $3.95 I got myself a massive grilled chicken taco and tortilla chips, both of which were delicious. It's not often that you would think of having a taco in a minor-league ballpark (in New Jersey, no less), but SurfTaco delivered.
I also had a slice of pizza from Charlie's Pizza, located next to SurfTaco out in right field. One big slice of plain pizza was $3, and it was every bit as good as the taco I got next door. One patron nearby remarked that the two stands are the best food in the stadium, and even if they aren't, they're certainly good enough to entice me out to right field any time I would visit FirstEnergy Park.
The rest of the park's refreshments didn't disappoint, from a tiki bar out in centerfield (with a great view above the batter's eye from which to watch an inning or two), a "Dog House" that served Ľ-pound hot dogs (Chicago Style, Coney Style, and more) and chips for $6, and Richman's ice cream stands.
There was also, for $2 extra, a way to upgrade one's ticket to gain access to a sit-down restaurant on the second level of the concourse. That restaurant has a separate kitchen from the rest of the stadium fare, featuring everything from a crab cake sandwich to paninis to pizzas and everything in-between.
Being a ballpark built in the early part of last decade, the quality of the facility is still top-notch. Everything still seems to have a cleanliness about it that you'd normally find only in the newest of parks. Plus, with the amount of seating options available (seats, picnic areas, berms, and party decks), everyone who attends would be satisfied.
FirstEnergy is very close to U.S. Route 9, State Routes 70 and 88, and the Garden State Parkway, which is nice, but it doesn't exactly give one the impression that anything goes on around the stadium. Thankfully, the center of Lakewood is only about two miles away, and the much larger city of Point Pleasant is only about ten miles or so away, so a short drive will provide more options.
Lakewood had a decent turnout even on a Tuesday night game before the schools let out, which is a promising sign - especially considering the team wasn't playing so well at the time. The fans were involved in the game, much more so than other places I've been. They were very engaged and didn't usually need to be told when to cheer.
Whether coming from Philadelphia to see the Phillies' stars of tomorrow or checking out a ballgame for something to do while "down the shore", FirstEnergy Park is easy to reach. Conveniently located between US 9 (from Interstate 195 and Trenton), State Routes 70 (from Philly) and 88 (from Point Pleasant), and the Garden State Parkway's Exits 89 and 90 (from virtually any point north and south along the Jersey shore), finding the stadium is a breeze.
Once there, there are massive parking lots that surround the stadium, so the walk should never be too far, even on a sellout. Parking is relatively cheap ($3). The restrooms are clean and well-furnished.
Everything you'd expect from a minor league ballpark and then some. Nice stadium, good food, great fans, and for as cheap as everything is, you can't go wrong here.
Like many minor-league teams around the country, the BlueClaws enjoy keeping games fun and interesting with various on-field promotions and extras sprinkled around the stadium. The middle of every sixth inning features a race between three giant eyeballs, which is certainly worth an extra point on its own, and the parking attendants at the game I attended were wearing hot dog suits purely because someone in management saw they were on sale somewhere and scooped up 20 of them.
Something else interesting not necessarily related to the facility itself but to the sponsorship of the park, the FirstEnergy Corporation has the naming rights to both this facility and the Phillies' Double-A affiliate, the Reading Phillies. I don't know if this was planned or merely coincidental, but seems like a great way to cross-promote both teams.
Member Review by ballparkreviews on Aug 23, 2012
Located near the Jersey shore, the typical crowd here is that of beachgoers, meaning most people could care less about the game. They are there to eat and socialize. Still, FirstEnergy Park is a fine ballpark, especially for the Low-A South Atlantic League. It is spacious, features a full wraparound concourse, and has an exterior that is meticulously maintained. Also, the concessions here are well varied and actually pretty reasonably priced. I was able to get 3 sliders with a bag of chips for just $3.75. The Mexican stand in the right field corner serves up freshly made tacos and burritos that look tasty. The Blueclaws continue to be a great draw even after 10 years, so clearly they have figured out a great formula for success.
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